24 February 2024
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Nine people were killed at a squatter camp in northern Brazil when workers installing an internet antenna accidentally touched a high-voltage power line, electrocuting three employees and six residents, officials said Sunday.

The accident, which happened Saturday, also ignited a massive fire at the camp set up by Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) outside the town of Parauapebas, as a succession of squatter shacks went up in flames, said the Para state fire department.

“The houses and shacks are all very close to each other, built with highly combustible material — wood, thatch roofs, some with straw for insulation. That fueled the fire,” local fire department commander Charles Catuaba told AFP.

Authorities are still working to identify the charred remains of two of the victims, he said.

Founded in 1984, the MST is a social and political movement that fights for access to land for the poor in deeply unequal Brazil. Its land seizures have made it highly controversial, with critics accusing it of radicalism.

Around 2,000 families lived in the camp outside Parauapebas, which was baptized the “Land and Freedom” camp, the MST said.

The tragedy was “the result of a society that didn’t give these families the opportunity to have a dignified place to live,” MST leader Joao Paulo Rodrigues said in a statement.

Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose Workers’ Party (PT) is a historic ally of the MST, has sent his rural development minister and the head of national land reform agency Incra to Para to “provide the federal government’s full support to the families of the victims of this tragedy,” his office said in a statement.

Abdul Gh Lone